Have you ever had this kind of experience? You got up in the morning willing to have a productive day. You turned on the computer, and before you knew it, you already spent one hour browsing the Internet without even starting to do anything useful. Later that day, you browsed some sites necessary to get your job done, but ended up spending way too much time on them. Even worse, when you tried to do the actual work, you found it hard to push yourself. You stopped working on it after only 20 minutes.
Not a very productive day, is it? Fortunately, there are four simple questions which I believe can help you overcome such problem. These questions should be an indispensable part of your productivity toolbox. Ask them throughout the day and act upon the answers. Here they are:
1. What’s the most important task to do now?
At any given time, there are actually just two simple rules for productivity: 1. Don’t be idle 2. Do the most important task. Consequently, you should always find out what the most important task at any given time is. I’d define the most important task as the task that will make the most difference in your life if you do it now. Consequently, it should take into account your current energy level and amount of available time.
Asking this question helps you in at least two ways:
- It helps you figure out what the right thing to do is.
- It gives you a clear purpose in mind which prevents you from getting distracted by other things.
2. Does it need to be timed?
After you know what the most important task is, you should ask whether or not the task should be timed. Used properly, timer is a great tool to boost your productivity. There are four ways timer can help you boost your productivity. If any one of the four ways is suitable for your task, then the task should be timed. If none of them is suitable, then the task should not be timed.
3. Min or max?
This question should be asked only if the answer to question 2 is yes. The four ways timer can help you boost your productivity can actually be compressed to only two for practical use:
- It sets a minimum limit of time to get you start working.
- It sets a maximum limit of time to not overspend your time.
After you decide that the task should be timed, you should then decide how you will use the timer. Will you use it to set the minimum or the maximum limit?
Minimum (min) is used for tasks which should be worked on for at least a certain amount of time for you to be productive. For example, if you are a writer you may decide that you need to write at least 3 hours a day.
Maximum (max) is used for tasks which should be worked on for at most a certain amount of time for you to be productive. For example, you may limit your news reading to at most 30 minutes a day to still have enough time to get other things done.
4. What’s the next action?
If you use GTD, you may have been familiar with this question. While doing any task, you should always ask what the next physical action is.
Physical actions are simple actions which you can do “without thinking”. A complex task could usually be broken down into several physical actions. Consequently, for any given task (the answer to question 1), you will usually ask this question several times. For example, if your task is “create the sales report”, the first physical action might be “call John to ask about last month’s sales figures”.
Asking this question gets you out of the state of inaction. Often we are trapped in the state of inaction because we do not know what the next physical action is. The task then seems so complicated that we postpone doing it. By breaking the task down into physical actions, the task will look much easier since the physical actions can be done “without thinking”.
Armed with these four questions, you will know what the right thing to do is, increase your productivity by using timer, and get out of the state of inaction to actually do it.